What if you had cancer, and then only needed a one-time treatment in order to go into remission? It might seem like a dream come true — and a dream a long way off — but for patients affected by leukemia, this dream might become a reality much sooner than expected.
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel just voted in favor of a one-time treatment for leukemia patients that involved tweaking their immune cells to attack their cancer. It put 83 percent of patients into remission in initial testing.
The new therapy, known as CAR-T, is being called a “living drug” by doctors because it permanently changes the cells that continue to multiply in the body to fight the cancer.
Dr. Malcolm A. Smith of the National Cancer Institute said the new treatment is “ushering in a new era” and that the FDA’s initial approval is being hailed as a “major advance.”
The approval came after long talks and strong pleas from parents of young patients who have been saved from the therapy.
Pennsylvania dad Tom Whitehead said his 12-year-old daughter was the first child to receive the therapy five years ago.
"Our daughter was going to die and now she leads a normal life," Whitehead said. “We believe when this treatment is approved, it will save thousands of children's lives around the world."
But as promising as the new treatment sounds, the FDA still needs to formally approve the specific drugmakers’ treatments. Additionally, the long-term side effects of CAR-T remain unknown. It’s not immediately clear whether patients who go into remission will be cured or if their cancer will return later.
Also, this long-term treatment is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, if it ends up saving lives, that is much more valuable than anything else loved ones of these patients could ever spend money on.
Stay tuned for more updates! The way we fight cancer may be about to change forever, and that’s a step in the right direction for us all.